Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA/United Kingdom/Switzerland, 1963. Twentieth Century Fox, MCL Films S.A., Walwa Films S.A.. Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall, Sidney Buchman, based on the histories of Plutarch, Suetonius and Appian, and the book The Life And Times of Cleopatra by Carlo Mario Franzero. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy, Jack Hildyard. Produced by Walter Wanger. Music by Alex North. Production Design by John DeCuir. Costume Design by Vittorio Nino Novarese, Renie. Film Editing by Dorothy Spencer. Academy Awards 1963. Golden Globe Awards 1963.
Yes, it’s the most damnably long movie in all cinema history, but if you’re in the right frame of mind you’ll have a great time. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the famed monarch of Egypt who first romanced Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison), which makes up the first two hours of the movie, and then Marc Anthony (Richard Burton), which is what the second two are concerned with. Of course, it’s more than likely that the enormous box office intake of the film had to do more with the real-life romance between Dick and Liz than anything going on onscreen; so much publicity was engendered during the tumultuous three and some-odd years of shooting, rewrites, recasts and the various array of directors, that as co-star Roddy McDowall pointed out, by the time the film came out no one was seeing “the forest for the trees”. To its credit, the film does a great job of going through known details of Cleopatra’s recorded life, from the time she entered her brother’s palace hidden in a rolled-up carpet until her death at the hands of a poisonous snake, with only a few flights of fancy in between (like that historically inaccurate plastic sponge floating in her bath). The sets are eye-popping in their beauty, recreating an almost mythical Egypt of ancient times that you find yourself easily getting lost in. The length, however, will be a real problem for those who aren’t kept fascinated by Taylor’s fiery personality (she herself vomited after she saw it the first time), especially considering that it’s basically a great two hours spread out over four. Along with Spartacus, however, it’s my favourite of the big junky epics being made during its time, so if that’s a good enough recommendation for you, indulge!